Australia should not just sit pat in the face of the gross injustice meted out to our mate Peter Greste.
There are three things we can do to let the Egyptian government know what we think of its behaviour. And if we can encourage the Canadians to join us then maybe we could start an ongoing broader international campaign.
The first is to call a spade a bloody shovel so that no one is in any doubt about what sort of people now run Egypt. By all means the Australian government should go on singing the diplomatic tune to the Egyptians on the off chance they might in the future change their minds. In the meantime, let's face it: the Egyptians could not give a damn about anything we say. Egypt is now a very nasty totalitarian police state and average Australians should not hesitate to vent their views on Egypt's denial of basic human rights. The blunt truth is that Egypt maintains a pretend judiciary as a front for the political killings of their political opponents as shockingly demonstrated by the intention of a mass execution of 180 members of the Muslim Brotherhood. There was no evidence against Greste; he is a pawn in Middle East politics and does not deserve seven years in jail for doing his job.
Second, Australians should stop going to Egypt. Apart from anything else, the security situation in Egypt is only going to get worse as the government killings promote retaliation from ever more barbaric extremists. So Aussies should not go to Egypt because it's not safe. This measure is not a form of sanction but the tourist industry is one of Egypt’s few sources of income. By not going, Australians can also make it known that while the Egyptians keep Peter Greste languishing in jail, Australians will not be sipping martinis on boats down the Nile. Remember how we stopped visiting France when it restarted nuclear testing in the Pacific at Mururoa Atoll in the 1990s.
The third suggestion is that Australia stop funding Egypt through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Labor agreed to exit the EBRD when I was an executive director of the bank and in that role worked hard to promote Egypt’s interests. My recommendation for the exit was supported by the Australian Treasury. The essential reason for leaving the bank is that it has largely fulfilled its mandate. When the Arab Spring arrived, US President Barack Obama proposed a broadening of the bank’s jurisdiction by making it possible to fund Egypt and others. His idea was to support burgeoning democracy in the Middle East. It was a naive idea which has turned to dust but which was manna from heaven for the empire builders in the bank. Only last month the bank voted to lend 126 million euros to Egypt in the full knowledge that Egypt was already in breach of the bank’s mandate to promote democracy and encourage free markets. In my view, the EBRD should immediately freeze the funds intended for Egypt. The bank should then suspend all loans to Egypt. Egypt does not meet the bank's criteria of democracy. The Australian government should then proceed to exit the bank as Treasury originally recommended.
I don’t hold out much hope for either an appeal or a response to these suggestions but they are much better than doing nothing and each are fully justified on their merits. Some may argue for sanctions of some sort. That’s a much more dramatic approach. Sometimes its better to start firmly and await the response before going stronger.
Peter Reith was a Minister on the Howard government and is a Fairfax columnist.